Faisal Anwar’s latest blog:
With the Affordable Care Act on the very near horizon, the gap between care provided for those with insurance and those without has been top of mind for many socially conscious medical professionals. So how are physicians and medical students working to reign in the disparity? The Atlantic recently published a comprehensive article on one of the major ways: student-run free clinics.
Since the late 1980s, medical student-run clinics have been an interesting alternative to helping those without insurance with an array of medical issues. The trend is as prevalent now as ever and seems only to be growing. According to the Atlantic, almost every major medical school program has a student-run free clinic, with some schools having as many as four.
As with any program designed to improve healthcare in the United States, there are pros and cons.
The obvious benefit of having free clinics available to those without health insurance is that people who may not have had any care are now receiving medical attention. Prognosticators in the field also believe that by teaching medical students about the care gap in the United States early on in their training, they may be more committed to trying to solve the problem on a deeper level later on. Students are also receiving more hands on experience than they would have so early in their medical careers. They are able to see a variety of medical problems first-hand and learn from supervising physicians when encountered with something they do not readily understand. These first and second year students are also given the benefit of fine tuning their bedside manner before becoming full fledged MDs.
So what are the drawbacks? Some in the field believe that allowing medical students, who are not yet physicians, to be responsible for the wellbeing of a patient is irresponsible. Final diagnoses and giving out prescriptions are of course left up to the MDs who oversee the entire operation, but some feel it sets a bad precedent. It’s likely that someone with good medical insurance would balk at the idea of entrusting their care to a second year student, and some are asking the question of whether or not allowing students to care for uninsured patients isn’t actually widening the care gap rather than closing it.
While the moral debate over allowing the uninsured to receive a “lower” level of care, The Atlantic piece notes that the reality is that the people being cared for at these clinics would probably be receiving no care at all.